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Attendance healthy at Black history festival

This story has been updated from an earlier version.

Apalachicola’s annual African-American History Festival, now one year shy of its 20th birthday,  brought a healthy excitement to the Hill Saturday in more ways than one.

Attendance at the three-day festivity in the Sixth Street field adjacent to Holy Family Senior Center, was strong, helped by beautiful weather. Plus “Health is the greatest wealth” was the theme of the festival.

“lt was a fabulous festival, it was up there,” said Elinor Mount-Simmons, who chairs the H’COLA committee whose members – Tami Ray-Hutchinson, Fonda and Sourda Davis, Dolores Croom, Leon and Sherry O’Neal, David Walker, Brenda Ash and Melissa West – handle all the organizing.

The Saturday morning parade featured all the little kings and queens, plus elected officials, and was led by Grand Marshall Pat Wilson, a longtime nurse at Weems Memorial Hospital and now retired at age 90 and living on Sixth Street. The most prominent group of dancers were a group of more than 50 young girls in blue and white, from Dance Kraze in Panama City.

The afternoon festivities were a smoothly-run blend of entertainment, fashion, and history, including the traditional ethnic fashion show, plus a presentation of the flags of the African nations – Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria.

Performers included spoken word artist Tasia Jones and 3-on-3 featuring C-Bell and Cola Boy Mal, a group made up of Maleah and Janiya Bell and their father Courtney Bell and his stepson Jamal Robinson. Bernard Simmons, lead guitar with the Blues Authority, also performed, with the evening headlined by the 225 Uptown Band from Dothan, Alabama.

On Friday night, following the presentation of all the Misters and Misses Hillside, two names were added to the Legends exhibit which now includes about a dozen of the most prominent leaders of the city’s African-American community over the years. Added were Apalachicola Mayor Brenda Ash and Weems Memorial Hospital CEO David Walker.

While the festival received financial support from a number of different sponsors, Friday night’s kick-off included awarding of plaques to stand-out supporters who have helped year-round. These included Duke Energy, Centennial Bank, Cates Electric, Florida Seafood Festival and the city of Apalachicola and the Apalachicola Police Department.

“They have supported all of our things through the years,” said Mount-Simmons. 

More vendors than in previous years graced the site, including about 15 food vendors, a half-dozen for-profit merchandise booths, and another 15 information and education booths, from the county health department, providing wellness checks, to the Camp Gordon Johnston WWII Museum touting this month’s exhibit on Black soldiers who trained during the war, and from the Apalachicola library and Bring Me A Book – Franklin giving away books, to the county supervisor of elections registering voters.

At Sunday’s worship all the local pastors from the Hill churches took part, with the exception of Horace Solomon, who was ill. Roderick Robinson, who pastors Greater Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, brought down 50 members from the congregation, including members of the church band and choir.

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